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Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin: can they be more than ‘space’ joyrides for millionaires?

1 7 0
16.07.2021

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson and his team successfully flew to the “edge of space” on the Unity 22 mission aboard a Virgin Galactic plane on 12 July. The event was hailed as the start of space tourism, narrowly beating the planned launch on 20 July by fellow billionaire business magnate Jeff Bezos and his firm Blue Origin.

But does the 85km (53 miles) altitude actually count as space? And what are these companies likely to achieve going forward?

The definition of where space begins is very subjective. The Kármán line is a distance of 100km (62 miles), determined in 1957. This line has been adopted by the Swiss Air Sports Federation (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) to determine if an activity is aeronautical or astronautical.

Alternatively, the US Air Force and Nasa determine their boundary as 80km (50 miles), which is where military personnel get their “astronaut wings”. This altitude has been reached by a number of specialist planes including the X-15 and notably the privately funded SpaceShipOne, reaching 112km (70 miles) – well above VSS Unity’s current achievement. The Blue Origin launch is aiming for 106km (66 miles).

While this altitude allows some excellent views of the Earth, it is not actually an orbit. To be orbiting at this altitude you need to be travelling at a minimum speed of 7.85km/s (17,500mph) in a horizontal direction. Unity was just an acceleration straight up and then a controlled drop back down. This is relatively simple to do,........

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